Monday, August 06, 2007

The Five Points of Calvinism

Part of a series on the Five Points of Calvinism
[Introduction] [Total Depravity] [Unconditional Election] [Limited Atonement]

It should come as no surprise to anybody who reads this blog (if there were some day to be such people, that is) that I am a five-point Calvinist. Note that this is distinct from what one denizen of Kim Riddlebarger's blog called "fifty-point Calvinism," i.e., following Calvin's every teaching. It is largely for this reason that I like to call myself (and people who believe similarly such as Reformed Baptists, John MacArthur, etc.) "monergists." If I don't accept all Calvin's teachings, perhaps I shouldn't take his name as my description.

There are many descriptions extant of what the five points of monergism really mean and where they came from. There are certainly fine expositions of the five points out there. But I do not wish to write another one. My goal is to write down my thoughts on each, especially from the perspective of somebody who has not embraced monergism until recently. If I succeed in this goal, perhaps I can help somebody else to understand the five points a little better as well.

Speaking of the latter, I have heard a number of times synergists who expect to shock us by telling us that "Calvin didn't even believe in Calvinism," presumably meaning - if it means anything at all - that Calvin did not formulate his famous five points. It's not a great shocker. The five points, as most monergists know, were formulated by the Synod of Dort over fifty years after Calvin died. They were formulated as a response to the five points of the Remonstrants, followers of Jakob Harmenszoon, also known as Arminius. Thus, it was the Arminians who first formulated five points: the Calvinists created theirs as an answer.

The initial observation I wish to make, in fact, builds on this fact. The five points were not formulated - or even unequivocally stated - by Calvin. This fact does not bother me in the least, because, frankly, I don't care what John Calvin said. I don't believe "Calvinism" to be the truth because Calvin said it, but because I believe it is the best systematic presentation I know with of the overall teachings of the Bible in the area of soteriology. And I have seen a few: I first became a Christian primarily by reading C. S. Lewis, who was a pretty thorough-going Arminian. (I think he clearly rejected Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Persistence of the Saints; I'm not sure where he'd fall on Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace.) Thus, I also became an Arminian. As I learned more and more teachings of the Bible, I rejected outright Arminianism and moved along my scale to become what I'd call a "semi-Calvinist." Finally, about eight months ago, I accepted the monergist view of salvation.

At no point in this process did the explicit teachings of Calvin come into play; in fact, on some points taught by Calvin, I was far more in accord with his beliefs at the beginning than at the end of the process. For example, regarding paedobaptism, I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church and became a Christian in the Episcopal Church under (as I said) heavy influence of C. S. Lewis. If anybody had a basis for believing in paedobaptism, it was me. Yet I gradually came to reject a number of the teachings of Calvin and others, while embracing that which I believe is Biblical.

I think most monergists would have a similar story. However, I have heard the most ludicrous statements by anti-Calvinists along these lines. I heard one Southern Baptist preacher imply that the result of coming to believe reformed doctrine is to become a paedobaptist. Another, a well-known seminary professor who should certainly know better, said that some Calvinists think that JC stands for John Calvin instead of Jesus Christ. There are weasel words here, no doubt, so that, if challenged, these men would say "I didn't mean all, I meant only some Calvinists think that way." But, in fact, the bias in the mind of the speaker, and that intended to be created in the mind of the listener, is clear.

After all, since the avowed intention of the speakers is to dissuade people from believing reformed theology, what good would it do to really say that "some Calvinists" believe such-and-such? I could say "some synergists kill babies," which would be true if even one of them did; but it would have no bearing whatsoever on whether one should listen to synergist soteriological doctrines unless I was implying that all or most synergists do so, and that killing babies is a near-inevitable result of following the synergist doctrine.

That is ridiculous, of course: the vast majority of born-again synergist Christians no more support abortion than any monergist, and thus I would never use such comparisons. But synergists don't seem to have a problem using them. I am not, for the same reason, trying to use this as an argument against synergist soteriology: simply imploring synergists not to use them.

Anyway, thus begins my series on the five points. I hope it will be edifying to somebody, and clarifying to myself.

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